Lucky Charms: A bowl of crunchy oat pieces and colourful marshmallows | Photo by Carlie Wright on Pexels

General Mills Goes Above and Beyond the Cereal Box To Close the Food Hunger Gap

‘Harnessing the power of food for good’: At the intersection of corporate ethics and good business

Lockdown constraints, supply chains, and retail inflation: From the farm to the table, the spectrum of issues across the food industry landscape are wide, varied, and complicated.

And they have only come in to sharper focus and under greater scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular concerns about food hunger and malnutrition.

At the centre is yet a critical dialogue and growing anxiety that now questions the role of the private sector, insofar as to how it can help, in addition to an obligation. For both consumers and corporations, the overall answer to the problem is not simple nor is it comfortable.

Yet one giant company that endeavours to bring meaningful, ethical, and sustainable change is General Mills, a United States leader in promoting global food security and sustainable food production.

Putting More Food on Millions of Tables is a Corporate Best Practice

From the developed to the developing country, such difficult and monumental issues of insecurity have yet always remained as significant, underlying historical socioeconomic problems since the beginning of civilization.

Today, around 811 million people across the globe now suffer from chronic food deprivation on a daily basis, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. However, the overall figure is even more poignant and problematic with an additional 70–161 million people now likely to experience hunger due to the pandemic.

As widespread supranational pandemics, in and of themselves, issues of hunger and malnutrition need not yet rest on the sole responsibility of nonprofit organizations and food banks, even though they provide invaluable frontline care and hospitality.

Yet as truly grassroots and essential at the neighbourhood community level, these charitable institutions cannot and should be held accountable to the fight against these combined, monolithic subjects on their own.

This is especially the case when considering that the aforementioned statistics suggest that it will otherwise require significant collaborative input for the world to honour its pledge to end hunger by 2030, as set forth by the United Nations.

Towards a multi-stakeholder paradigm: It is only when the corporation, the government, and the charity collectively combine and define their efforts and their resources that efficient and meaningful work can take place.

Importantly, for the private sector, there are considerable opportunities for them to get involved; first and foremost, to lead the frontlines with corporate social responsibility and ethics.

As outlined in last year’s United Nations report, “transforming food systems is essential to achieve food security, improve nutrition, and put healthy diets within reach of all,” which most certainly must include the efforts of major corporate entities.

Despite the financial hardship and negative externalities caused by the pandemic, players in the grocery space have yet entered in to more favourable positions, seeing an increase in their market share and overall profits.

To that end, such an example of an economic boom is thus expected to be leveraged to support major food security initiatives; in particular, the Zero Hunger, Nourish the Future Pledge.

In this instance, it would be an opportunity for such companies “to align USD 5 billion of their resources with new evidence and complement their pledges with new commitments being made by global institutions and governments to end hunger and nourish the future by 2030.”

From Humble Agricultural Beginnings to a Growing Appetite To Do Better in the World

World-renowned and -enjoyed for its popular breakfast cereals, General Mills is a company that has captured extensive coverage over the pantry shelves of grocery stores and the kitchen cupboards of many households alike.

Despite recently demonstrating a mixed performance on the stock market, the company, nonetheless, continues with a heavy presence and a strong influence to this day — and they strive to find new and improved pathways in which they can act and perform better than average among their competitors.

With primary roots in the North American flour milling industry, General Mills has, over its lifetime, further developed, perfected, and acquired many iconic brands. Under its banner, it now boasts more than 100 brands, offered in more than 100 countries, and found on six continents.

From delicious ice cream to nutritious organic products, it is not only impressive to consider the extent of their market capitalization and their market share but also how far-reaching and consequential their corporate decisions and practices can be.

When considering food hunger and malnutrition as still twenty-first-century problems, it is important to also note that General Mills has long maintained a strong foundation of community awareness, activity, and action, with an early track record of having a healthy and holistic philanthropic framework.

Internally, such values can be traced back to the company’s primary purpose, core business, and food systems knowledge. In contrast, externally, they continue to be proactive with forming critical partnerships with nonprofit organizations and other valuable third parties through important leadership and governance methodologies, beyond just fixed fiscal corporate donations and programs alone.

In fact, the company was one of the earliest adopters and innovators within the emerging health food scene in the early 1990s, to which they responded by launching a variety of healthy product lines.

Early to embrace the green and sustainable business model, they were successful in positioning themselves as an overall “good corporate citizen” committed to not just environmental protection but also that of the greater positive impact on the larger food infrastructure.

Thanks to their legacy of excellent corporate social responsibility, General Mills has since been in good standing, equipped with healthy infrastructures and relationships, in order to better align with many of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Zero Hunger.

General Mills’ Strong Commitment to Serving and Helping Others in Sustainable Ways

In terms of stabilizing food hunger issues on the ground, General Mills takes strategy seriously to improve systems on a local and a global scale by concentrating investments in three primary impact areas.

Firstly, the company is striving to expand the availability of food in and around local communities. In order to do so, they are tackling food deserts in hometown areas, in conjunction with the support of nonprofit partners and local residents, to guarantee that everyone has acceptable access to a diverse selection of foods that satisfy economic, nutritional, and cultural needs.

Second in command is the importance of education and awareness because these are the long-term tools for greater success and stronger sustainability.

General Mills commits to extending access to school meals across the world, knowing that schools may be one of the most effective outlets for promoting food security among children, which are well-documented as the most vulnerable demographic.

The school meals that they provide in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom focus on the importance of breakfast, in the form of programs to eliminate missing meals.

In India, China, and Brazil, the company is working hard to improve school feeding agendas by implementing initiatives that improve the capacities of central school kitchens, in addition to raising the nutritional value of the meals that are served.

As a third element to the overall equation, General Mills is making an effort to, furthermore, reduce unnecessary food waste, which is intrinsically tied to food hunger problems. As per a “farm to fork” approach, they first recognize that more than one-third of all food cultivated and produced actually never ends up being eaten.

In that case, they are championing innovative food rescue and recovery programs with a variety of partners around the world so that the majority of surplus food can be redirected to feeding hungry people, as opposed to wrongfully going into landfills.

In addition to these crucial sustainability measures, they make direct food donations to food bank network partners, which assist populations in more than 30 countries.

The extent of their ethical efforts and work is made even clearer with the fact that food banks and other NGOs who were funded by General Mills, provided a significant number of 1.8 billion meals to needy people across the world over the most recent 12-month reporting period.

At a time when world hunger and malnutrition are on an upward trend, it is evident that the largest food corporations are feeling the greatest sting and ethical push to sharpen their credentials and efforts.

Besides the government, there are a lot of eyes on the food and beverage sector to tackle this level of poverty, inequity, and inaccessibility. Accordingly, it is in General Mills’ very best interest to lead the fight against food hunger and malnutrition — not only in service of a good public relations image.

As per increasing positive shareholder value, the company can play a catalytic role to remain highly competitive, yet ethically forward, without sacrificing product and service quality — to which they pride themselves over “harnessing the power of food for good.”

Related: Notes on Sustainability: Simple ‘Every Year’s’ Resolutions to Make at the Grocery Store

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Jarvis Wai-Ki Clarke

Jarvis Wai-Ki Clarke

A curious creative with an appetite for words and stories, Jarvis covers food and home topics between waltzing around the kitchen and the grocery store.